Business Articles

Fast approvals helping speed up business 


Experiencing a growing appetite among the business community for expansion, First Trust Bank recently announced a market first in Northern Ireland. Targeting both new and existing customers, they have given a commitment to make decisions on new business loans and overdraft requests up to £25,000 within 48 hours.


One company that has already availed of this quick access to finance is bespoke joinery business, Co Down based Lignum Interiors.


Speaking about the service, Ciaran McMenamin, one of the founders of Lignum Interiors said; 

"Having a secure cash flow is particularly important in the construction industry and for exporters like us who are often dealing with fluctuating markets and a variety of suppliers and contractors. As a relatively new customer to the bank, they took the time to get to know us and our business, and this quick access to finance is helping us grow our operations. We have just completed two high-end bar outfits in America and are looking to new markets like Dubai, building on our existing Middle East experience." 


Donna Armstrong, First Trust Bank, added; "Lignum Interiors is one of Northern Ireland’s best SME exporters – a fact recently highlighted when they were commended in the Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards. Their reputation for bespoke interiors and furniture is attracting a global following, so we are delighted to continue to support them and their ambitious growth plans."

Local butchers a ‘cut above the rest’ following significant investment.

  • From a workforce of three in 2010, family owned Cunningham Butchers has grown to employ 50 members of staff. 
  • Kilkeel firm has over 1,000 different products with all produce sourced from the family’s farm or purchased from local farmers and suppliers.  


One of Co Down’s longest established businesses, Cunningham Butchers – who will soon be celebrating its 100th anniversary operating in the town of Kilkeel - has created 24 new jobs following a significant investment in its premises. 


With the support of First Trust Bank, Cunningham Butchers has opened a new bistro, fresh food hall and renovated its multi-award winning butchery.

The butchers is one of only a handful of Northern Ireland stores that boasts a Himalayan Salt Chamber for dry-ageing beef. With this expansion, the shop now also provides customers with fresh produce from a deli, hot food counter and bakery, and also makes its own homemade gelato ice-cream.


Experiencing year on year growth for the last six years, Cunningham Butchers had three staff members in 2010 and with this latest investment now employs over 50 people. The family run business produces over 1,000 different product lines including extra lean and gluten free varieties, and supplies its range to local retailers including EuroSpar.


Speaking about its recent investment and expansion, James Cunningham Jnr, the fourth generation of his family to run the business said;


“Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry is thriving, and this is partly down to the innovative mind-set of local food businesses that are ready to jump to the challenge and modernise their operations in response to market demands. Our own expansion meets a growing need for products that don’t compromise on taste or quality, including those of health conscious consumers. Thankfully, our reputation for preparing food in a traditional way but with a modern twist has grown over the years. We’re delighted to open our expanded premises with the support of First Trust Bank and broaden our range where now people can purchase everything from a dry aged steak to low fat and gluten free ready meals. With the addition of our Bistro, we are now offering customers a restaurant that supplies itself from start to finish, providing customers with one of the freshest dining experiences possible, found only in a handful of places anywhere in Ireland.”


Welcoming news of the expansion, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Kilkeel Business Manager, First Trust Bank said;


“Key to the success of Cunningham Butchers has been their unwavering commitment to high quality food that also meets customer’s expectations for choice, value and convenience. As well as growing their own business, the firm is helping boost business around the wider Co Down area through job creation and local supply opportunities. With in-depth experience and knowledge handed down through generations, James Cunningham Jnr and his father James Snr came to us with a well-thought out business idea that demonstrated market foresight and ambition. We are delighted to support their expansion plans and are confident that their ability to mix heritage and tradition with innovation will serve them well as they continue to grow.”

Despite a busy marketplace, Cormac Diamond established Bloc Blinds in 2005 after spotting the need for a simple, interchangeable roller blind system.


Now designing and manufacturing a host of shading products, Bloc Blinds recently announced a £4 million expansion at its premises in Magherafelt which will create 93 new jobs and allow the firm to respond to export demand.


“To be a good exporter, you need a good team. From sales executives, to marketing and production staff, a talented team of people all embracing a company’s ambition counts for a lot. Patience is also an attribute businesses need to have when looking to export. It takes time to establish and build relationships with foreign partners."

"The key is not to be disheartened and to take on board feedback where you can. Some products that we thought would perform well abroad received mixed responses, but this allowed us to go back to the drawing board and adapt and amend our offering to ensure new markets were receiving exactly what they needed.


2016 has been a year of change for Bloc Blinds. We have been settling in to our new, purpose built facilities and have welcomed new employees to the firm – bringing our workforce up to 115 people with more set to join over the coming years. It’s an exciting time for the business as we continue with our innovative product development that initially helped put the company on the map.


The blind market is a saturated one. Our unique selling point is that customers can change the fabric of their blind whenever they want and this has really resonated with consumers; so much so that we successfully introduced seasonal fabric for special occasions such as Christmas.  Our products are also suited to the novice DIY-er as our blinds come with drill free brackets. Innovation and R&D are hugely important elements of our business. Currently we have 13 product patents pending, four patents that have been confirmed, and we are gearing up to launch two truly game changing products later this year. One of these – a unique solar powered skylight – will be particularly suited to our export markets while the other, a cordless blind, responds to a real need for shading products that also ensure child safety.


As well as exporting across the UK and RoI – we export to further afield in Europe including Holland, France and Germany and plan to grow our export potential further over the coming years in line with our expansion plans. There are many benefits that come with being an exporter. Firstly, you spread your risk and are better able to navigate market fluctuations if you are operating across a few different markets.  Exporting also helps you lift the performance of your business to a higher level. If you are sending product further away, you are going to make sure it’s fit for purpose to minimise any follow up and you find that this attitude results in better performance right across the board.


Northern Ireland is a great place to export from. Organisations like InvestNI are dedicated to supporting export potential here and helped us by facilitating meetings and trade visits which have directly led to orders. We’re uniquely placed too with a ‘double hop’ export market open to us – into RoI and the GB market.  An issue that is always on the mind of exporters is how product flows and how trade relations are sustained. Otherwise though, a key selling point NI businesses having going for them, is our talented people. As a region, we have a great pool of educated and committed professionals on our doorstep. Knowing how key our team has been to Bloc Blinds, I can’t emphasise the importance of this enough. While we are an exporting company we also work with a host of local companies who support that drive. From our bank, First Trust Bank who have believed in our vision to a host of fabric designers and aluminium suppliers who ensure we remain innovative and competitive. This has shown us the breadth of talented businesses and people which exist in Northern Ireland and proves we can compete with the best in the world."

From its base on the east coast of Co Down, Ardglass Sea Products Ltd exports fresh and frozen fish products all over the world as well as supplying local restaurants, businesses and wholesalers across NI through its successful retail division. 

A family run business, the company was established by brothers Seamus and Philip Milligan and is now run by Seamus’ son, David Milligan. 


"It seems obvious, but in order to be a successful exporter, you must have a deep understanding of the markets you are operating in, or plan to operate in. Cultural and societal factors are important, as are logistics issues such as currency, payment and import structures. By understanding the nuances of each market, you can build a tailored and effective operating model.

Ardglass Sea Products starting exporting almost 30 years ago. While my father and uncle may not have envisaged us exporting to locations as far afield as Cameroon, they recognised the opportunity to penetrate emerging markets brought about by increased globalisation. As a result, we now have a wide client base across the EU, Africa and Asia as well as experience in the Russian market."

"At Ardglass, we sell pelagic fish. Often referred to as the ‘chicken of the sea’; it’s known for its high protein value, and low cost. We can bring our catch in from the Irish Sea to our well-equipped factory, and within hours the produce can be exported to our customers. It’s a product that is in high demand by consumers, but 2016 has been a tricky year for the fishing industry as a whole, with the sector suffering from poor sales in Europe and a lack of exportable currency in Africa (USD).


These market and sectoral fluctuations make product quality and customer experience all the more important. We maintain a close understanding of our customers’ ever changing needs. This helps us implement changes which benefit our clients and our business, and allows us to add value to our products through good communication and excellent service. We pride ourselves on these relationships and building trust and reputation with your clients can be just as important as knowing your export market.  This is why, despite increased competition we have been doing business with some of our customers for nearly 20 years.


Geographically speaking, Northern Ireland is an excellent base for exporters. We benefit from good shipping links from Dublin - a particularly crucial factor for our business - and as a region we are focused on growing our economy.  This means that organisations and local authorities, as we found in our dealing with Invest NI and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, are very supportive in helping you achieve your ambition. Being an exporter also allows you to continue to grow your business. By working across a number of regions you aren’t wholly reliant on one economy or one market, but instead can scope out additional opportunities if a particular marketplace goes into decline or stagnates.


Challenges do of course exist. In our business, we have found that some aspects of NI infrastructure have prohibited our growth plans. Recently we experienced difficulty in securing adequate electricity supply to power our facilities and setbacks of this type can adversely affect businesses growth ambitions. We have been committed to modernising our operations over the last number of years, and at the start of 2016 we completed a large expansion project which modernised our freezing and cold storage capabilities. Having completed this part of our growth programme, we are now looking forward to installing new processing equipment which will further improve our efficiency and outputs and allow us to reach new customers.


As with other many other businesses operating within the agri-food sector, ‘Brexit’ is a hot topic. For fishing companies it’s of particular relevance given the stringent quotas placed on the industry. This has been restrictive to our growth plans, so we will continue to observe the debate and vote with interest."

The Deluxe Group’s Managing Director Colm O’Farrell is currently in Dubai leading the company’s Dubai office - Deluxe Theme Turnkey Projects - which opened in December 2014. 


Headquartered in Portadown, the Deluxe Group started out as painting and decorating firm in 1969 but evolved its service offering in line with changing markets and is now probably best known as a bespoke joinery manufacturer and theming company. 


"My advice to anyone considering exporting is to make sure that your offering is original. Diversifying your operations opens your business up to a host of niche opportunities, whereas going in to a new market with price as your differentiator can lead to tough challenges as you deal with competitors and fluctuations in overheads and demand.


The Deluxe Group is now mainly an exporting company."

"Although the NI and RoI market is currently quiet for us, we export to a host of European countries including England, France, the Netherlands, and further afield to the UAE where there is a huge demand for our theming specialism. We very much see ourselves as an international company - open to exporting anywhere and everywhere.


The company’s current activity spans high end joinery in the luxury hospitality and residential sector in London to creative fabrication for theme park attractions in Dubai where they have just opened an office following the award of five themed attractions at Motiongate, Dubai’s largest movie based theme park opening later this year.


I think the evolution of our business, the emphasis we put on quality and talent coupled with our attention to detail - both in our products and business decisions – helps to explain our export success.  Our offering has continually developed to respond to gaps in the market; moving from painting and decorating in the 70s and 80s to specialist finishes in the 90s, to bespoke joinery and outfitting in the 00s.  We saw a huge upturn in business from 2012 onwards and almost vertical growth last year as our theming division expanded.  


One element of our business that attracts attention and contributes to our growing reputation is our ability to offer end to end service delivery. As well as creating the sets, props and special effects for attractions such as Hotel Transylvania; Ghostbusters; Zombieland; The Green Hornet and Underworld at Motiongate in Dubai, we manage the entire artistic process and commit to delivering projects on time and to budget.  


The joiners who work at Deluxe are learning a new way of doing carpentry. Key to our success is our talented workforce, so we invest in factory and in-house training – equipping our team with the skills they need to be master carpenters. It’s a great environment to work in. When people think of fit-out or joinery, they typically envisage furniture design but in our workshops you come face to face with all manner of builds, from witches’ carts to gargoyles!  By combining the latest in technological design and production, equipment with woodworking craftsmanship and artistic talent, we can create sets that make people feel as if they have been transported to a different world.   


2016 got off to a phenomenal start for us, and we have plenty in store for the rest of the year and beyond with orders lined up for the next 2 – 3 years. We have one of the biggest supply packages for Dubai Parks and Resorts where we are working to bring to life the five Sony Pictures attractions.  We are making great inroads into the luxury fit-out market in London working on private members hotels such as The Devonshire Club which is a growing trend in the London hospitality market.


Key to making sure exporting is the right – and a successful – option for your business is to avail of the great support networks available. If it wasn’t for the support of Invest NI, the Department of Trade and Industry and our bank First Trust Bank, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The Invest NI team in Dubai helped us team up with a local sponsor and have been a great support mechanism to help us navigate the local business industry in UAE.


Looking to Northern Ireland, I’m optimistic about our economic prospects as there is a sense of upturn both north and south of the border – despite the Brexit question. While daunting, exporting doesn’t have to be difficult.  We haven’t encountered any logistical problems and just recently transferred 70 containers to our new office in Dubai with no issue.

As long as you are responding to a market demand and have something unique and original to offer, exporting is a rewarding endeavour. With a host of partners and organisations hoping to grow Northern Ireland’s export potential, getting the support and knowledge you need has never been easier."

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    Engineering Firm Takes Top Award

    A Belfast engineering business with a 35-year old Chief Executive delivering a world-leading transatlantic communications construction project has been named Northern Ireland's Small Business of the Year.


    M&M Contractors was awarded the overall accolade at the second annual Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards, held on Thursday, 2nd June at La Mon Hotel & Country Club.

    The Awards, organised by Business Eye magazine and sponsored by First Trust Bank, celebrated Northern Ireland’s top preforming businesses with 50 employees or less across 12 different categories.


    The Manufacturing Business of the Year Award went to composites specialists IPC Mouldings based in Carrickfergus, while online payment firm IRP Commerce came out on top in the Technology Business of the Year category.


    Glenarm Organic Salmon lifted the Agri-Food Business Award with the innovative Environmental Street Furniture taking the Exporter of the Year title.


    The award for Customer Focus went to Newry-based accident management company Crash Services while a pair of Spar retail outlets in North Belfast took the Community Contribution title.


    Speaking about the Awards, Head of First Trust Bank, Des Moore, said;


    “First Trust Bank has the pleasure of working with a diverse range of innovative and creative small businesses and we recognise the crucial role they play in growing Northern Ireland’s economy. By celebrating and rewarding their success through initiatives like the First Trust Bank Business Eye Small Business Awards, we help shine a light on best practice and hopefully motivate other businesses to achieve their full potential. The standard, diversity, innovation and entrepreneurial drive demonstrated at the Awards were not only exciting but encouraging for the local economy and we want to congratulate all of the entrants and winners.”


    Brenda Buckley, Publisher of Business Eye, said:


    “We were delighted with the success of the Small Business Awards in their first year, and we're even more pleased with how they've grown year on year. We received a really strong entry from a wide variety of companies based right across Northern Ireland.


    “They are already an integral part of the business calendar here, and we've every reason to believe that they will go from strength to strength.”


    Listen to what winning an award means to a small business -

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    Bell announces £4million investment and 93 new manufacturing jobs at Bloc Blinds in Magherafelt


    Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell has announced a £4million expansion by Bloc Blinds that will create 93 new manufacturing jobs in Magherafelt by 2018.


    Supported by Invest Northern Ireland and First Trust Bank, Bloc Blinds’ investment includes new manufacturing facilities and extensive market development activities to help drive export sales, particularly in Europe and the US.


    Jonathan Bell said: "Bloc Blinds is a growing innovative business and this announcement is welcome news for Magherafelt and the local manufacturing industry. The significant investment in new premises, recruitment of the new staff and increased marketing and development activities will help Bloc Blinds position itself a global player in the window covering market."


    "The 93 new manufacturing jobs to be recruited over the next three years will contribute £1.7million annually in additional salaries to the local economy. With full manufacturing and multi skilled training provided to all production employees at Bloc Blinds, this expansion offers attractive roles for those returning to work or seeking alternative employment."


    "Invest Northern Ireland’s offer of £465,000 is helping this indigenous manufacturer to implement its growth plans quickly so it can maximise opportunities in a worldwide market."


    Bloc Blinds specialises in the design and manufacture of window blinds and recently moved into its renovated and extended new premises at Station Road, Magherafelt.


    Cormac Diamond, Managing Director of Bloc Blinds, said: "This exciting investment follows encouraging business growth in recent years and underpins our ambition to increase sales particularly in Europe and the US."


    "Our new manufacturing facility brings the current Bloc Blind lines under the one roof which will help increase production and operating efficiencies. The support and advice of Invest Northern Ireland so far has been invaluable and its support with this expansion will ensure that we have the resources and skill set in place to achieve our goals."


    First Trust Bank is also supporting Bloc Blinds' business development activities. Welcoming the investment and job creation announcement, Edel McCooe, Regional Director, First Trust Bank said: "Bloc Blinds has built up a strong reputation as an innovator due to their clever, precise designs and solutions and this is being reflected in their growing customer base right across the UK, Europe and America. We have supported Cormac and his vision for the company over the last 10 years and we are delighted to back their latest growth and expansion phase which is creating skilled jobs for local people and helping to ensure Northern Ireland’s prowess for innovative manufacturing solutions is known world-wide."

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    New Rooms at the Inn - £600,000 investment in Flagstaff Lodge Newry creating 13 new jobs

    The former Newry Golf Inn, Forkhill Road, Newry has completed a £600,000 investment in purpose built accommodation and a rebrand with the support of First Trust Bank.


    Now called Flagstaff Lodge and located on the busy Belfast to Dublin corridor, the 5 Star Guest Inn venue has added 18 guest rooms to its existing hospitality offering which includes a restaurant, lounge and large function suite as well as an adjoining golf driving range. The expansion has also led to the creation of an additional 13 new jobs.


    The new facilities boast a range of top quality ensuite, single, double, executive and family rooms which will immediately allow it to offer a full hospitality experience to the growing number of visitors in the area as well as to support its existing events and function business. 

    Speaking about the investment, owner Gary Heaney said; “We are delighted to now bring our brand new purpose built accommodation facilities to the local market and look forward to welcoming new guests in the days and weeks ahead. We are conveniently located, midway between Belfast and Dublin, just off the A1/M1 dual carriageway and with the many tourist attractions on our doorstep including the ‘Ring of Gullion’ Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the world famous Mourne mountains, we are confident that we will meet a need for more quality accommodation in the area. We are delighted to have the support of First Trust Bank who understood our vision as well as the opportunity that was presented and have helped us to bring this project to its completion.”

    Stephen Comer, Manager, First Trust Bank said; “Gary and his team have already built up a strong reputation locally for good food and quality service in the existing facilities. Given the growth in tourism and business in the area we believed in his vision to add purpose built accommodation, growing the broader hospitality offering on what is already a well-known landmark site. We believe that this a very welcome addition to the local hospitality sector and will benefit the wider community, delivering more visitors and spend in the Newry area.”


    More details about the new facilities can be found here

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    First Trust Bank University Road reopens following major branch investment


    First Trust Bank has reopened its popular University Road branch in the heart of South Belfast following a £825,000 investment.  The revamp is part of a significant branch and online channel investment programme launched earlier this year when the Bank cut the ribbon on its new flagship Donegall Square North branch in Belfast city centre following a similar refurbishment.


    Speaking about the investment, Des Moore, Head of First Trust Bank said:


    “First Trust Bank has an ambition and an appetite to grow and we will only achieve this by helping both our personal and business customers to grow with us. With a strong customer focus and ethos, we hope to set ourselves apart and this latest branch opening is evidence of that commitment in action.  Our branch investment programme and our investment in other channels offers customers a wider choice of how to engage with the Bank in the way that is most suited to them – from being able to find a friendly face in a branch or a voice on the phone, as well as being able to access our online and mobile services easily on the go.”


    First Trust Bank Regional Director Edel McCooe added:


    “South Belfast is home to over 91,000 people including a high proportion of students as well as large number of thriving businesses and local entrepreneurs.  Like our flagship Donegall Square North branch, our new University Road branch features new technology in a modern banking setting which provides customers with access to quick banking facilities and even more ways to engage with us while in branch. University Road also has a number of dedicated student advisors to ensure our student customers can access the specialised advice and services they need. The team look forward to welcoming back our existing customers as well as some new faces to this branch.”

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    Former Senior Coroner receives major Queen’s University award

    Wednesday, 02 December, 2015



    The 2015 First Trust Bank Queen’s Graduate of the Year Award was presented at the annual Charter Day Dinner (27 November) to Mr John Leckey, former Senior Coroner for Northern Ireland.

    The Graduate and Student of the Year Awards, now in their 15th year, are presented by the Queen’s Graduates’ Association (QGA), organisers of the Charter Day Dinner, with the support of the University’s Development and Alumni Relations Office and First Trust Bank.


    This year’s Student of the Year, Laura Graham, received her award – plus a cheque for £500 – during Summer Graduation.

    Announcing the Award, Mark McKeown, Branch Manager, University Road, said: “First Trust Bank is delighted to partner with Queen’s and the Graduates’ Association to recognise such an outstanding contribution to our community over a prolonged period. John Leckey has worked tirelessly on behalf of others throughout his working life and is a deserving winner of this year’s Award.”


    Speaking to the BBC’s Mark Simpson, who interviewed this year’s Graduate winner about his life as a student at Queen’s and his role as Senior Coroner, Mr Leckey said: “My wife, Janet, and I are both graduates of Queen’s and hold it in very high esteem and with great affection. I am deeply honoured to win this Award.” 


    “Fate played a role in my career,” he continued. “I wanted to study medicine but my sciences were not strong and so I went into law. However, I always kept my knowledge of forensic science up-to-date.”


    Commenting on the Award, QGA President Feargus McCauley said: “Charter Day is a celebration of the founding of the University and as the most prestigious alumni event of the year, it is fitting that we are able to present our First Trust Bank Queen’s Graduate of the Year Award to former Northern Ireland Senior Coroner, John Leckey. My congratulations go to him and all those who helped make this evening so special.”


    John Leckey (LLB) and his wife Janet (BSSc, Psychology) graduated from Queen’s in 1971 on the same day – a doubly special occasion as they also announced their engagement that day.


    In the 70s and 80s the Northern Ireland police force was not allowed to move a body without the Coroner’s permission. “There were no mobile phones then; you relied on the home phone and could therefore easily become housebound. Routinely I was awakened 3-4 times a night,” said Mr Leckey.


    When asked if he was obsessed with death, he replied: “No, but why people die is interesting. Death is both precarious and unexpected.”


    Mr Leckey went on to outline the most challenging parts of his role as Senior Coroner. “Some of the most difficult inquests were those involving the death of a child. It was obviously very challenging to see bereaved parents in a court room and to remain professional is tough. However, you cannot take on the grief of the family; you need to keep a Chinese wall erect. The grieved family deserves the highest level of professionalism,” he told Mark Simpson. “In saying that,” he added, “it wasn’t always easy; certainly there were moments when the wall was close to falling down.”


    John Leckey retired from office in September 2015. He and his wife Janet, who is President of Queen’s Women Graduates, are currently planning a trip around the world. 

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    ‘Developing Corporate NI Leadership Skills Crucial to Rebalancing the Economy’ Launch of Bespoke Corporate Leadership Programme for Northern Ireland

    November 2015



    The importance of developing corporate leadership skills in Northern Ireland to support the rebalancing of the local economy was highlighted at the launch of a new Corporate Leadership Programme by First Trust Bank* and the William J Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s University Belfast today.


    The programme is the brainchild of First Trust Bank and is a direct response to feedback received from some of their corporate customers who expressed concerns about the depth of their companies leadership skills and the potential impact on their growth plans. 

    Based on this feedback and compelling evidence which highlights the positive impact of strong management and leadership skills to business performance, the Bank has partnered with the William J Clinton Leadership Institute to develop a new bespoke Corporate Leadership Programme for NI businesses. The Programme is specifically aimed at middle to senior management in larger SMEs and corporate organisations who are looking to accelerate their development in the leadership space. Initially, 10 fully funded bursaries will be made available for participants on the Programme with an independent panel of judges evaluating applicants.


    Details of the Programme were launched at an event in the William J Clinton Institute at Riddel Hall, Belfast attended by over 150 Corporate business leaders. Speakers included Des Moore, Head of First Trust Bank; Bernard Byrne, CEO, AIB Group and Anne Clydesdale, Director of the William J Clinton Leadership Institute. Guest speaker was Kevin Gaskell, former Managing Director of Porsche GB and former UK Managing Director of BMW where he led the company to four years of record growth and a 500% increase in profitability. He currently is a private equity funder and a board member of a number of companies and gave his perspective on the importance of strong corporate leadership and management skills.


    The Bank also used the opportunity to unveil its new Business and Corporate Banking Team under the leadership of Richard Ennis and its plans to support the larger SME and corporate space in Northern Ireland.


    Outlining the rationale behind the new Corporate Leadership Programme Des Moore, Head of First Trust Bank said;

    “We know that one way to rebalance the economy is to grow our larger SMEs and to further develop a stronger and more vibrant NI PLC, which can and increasingly does compete on the world stage. As we deal with more customers who are focused on growth, we have identified an important need for further investment in our future leaders. Many have highlighted this as an issue that could potentially hold back their growth plans and we wanted to help. Alongside this we noted compelling evidence which points to the positive impact of strong management and leadership skills on business performance. ”


    Anne Clydesdale Chief Executive the William J Clinton Leadership Institute added

    “The William J Clinton Leadership Institute is delighted to be working in partnership with First Trust Bank to design and deliver the new challenging Corporate Leadership programme for the NI business sector. The launch of this new programme is very much aligned with QUB and the Leadership Institute's vision of developing focused strategic leaders within NI. The programme is an excellent example of a leading bank reaching out to businesses locally to help promote excellent leaders, and in turn more robust organisations with a subsequent positive contribution to the NI PLC.”


    The Corporate Leadership Programme is currently open for applications and as places are expected to be highly sought, applications should be received by Friday 4 December. Further details about the Programme can be found on or by contacting 028 90974394.

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    'High Flyers Feature' - The Irish News - Edel McCooe, Regional Manager, First Trust Bank



    What is your job?


    I am the Regional Manager for First Trust Bank. My role is to ensure we provide an excellent customer experience and support our customers by listening to them and meeting their needs in the 30 locations across our branch network.



    How did you get into your current position?


    I have been with the Bank for 28 years and started as a cashier in our Newcastle, Co. Down branch in the summer of 1987. I joined straight from school and have held a variety of roles across the business including Retail banking, Business banking, HR, and Operations. When I stop to consider my current position, I always like to acknowledge the support of colleagues who encouraged and mentored me, as well as my family and friends who helped keep everything running smoothly at home.

    Do you have a typical working day?


    Our customers and my colleagues ensure every day is different – but that’s what I find exhilarating. I travel around the various branches in the network, providing support and guidance and meeting our customers. The hours of work vary and are dependent on the needs of customers and my team. What I love most is engaging with people.


    What qualifications do you have?


    I joined the Bank straight from school after A Levels. First Trust Bank has a dedicated learning and development programme which encourages all our colleagues to enhance their knowledge in a variety of ways. Early in my career I undertook the Institute of Bankers exams. First Trust Bank has also supported my development and growth with numerous leadership programmes which I have found invaluable.


    What other skills do you need in your role?


    As an experienced business and retail banker I have supported the ambitions of many SME customers across a number of sectors and also the aspirations of our personal customers. I believe a real respect and understanding for customers should be a given. Strong people leadership is vital to my role - listening, motivating and leading people to deliver for our customers and invest in their own personal development.


    What’s the best thing about your job?

    I’m proud to say my colleagues and my customers. I have built very strong relationships with the people I work with and our customers over the last 28 years. Staff understand that their role goes beyond the provision of financial products and we help our customers as they embark on many different journeys in life - some to start a new business venture, others to buy their first home or help a young person open their very first account. Watching customers navigate important milestones and achieve their aspirations is a privilege.


    And the worst?


    Anything that might stand in the way of delivering the best possible customer experience.


    What do you think are the greatest challenges/pressures of the job?

    As an industry, banking has had a few dark days. We need to work hard to rebuild trust. It’s challenging, but by making sure we listen to our customers and ensure a fair customer outcome then I have no doubt we can play our part in rebuilding the local economy and trust in the communities in which we operate.


    What did you want to be when you were at school?


    I wanted to be a maths teacher! I was accepted into St Mary’s Teacher Training College on the same day as First Trust Bank offered me a job. I chose the Bank.


    What advice would you give someone considering a career in your profession?


    Work hard and be willing to learn from other people. Don’t be afraid to network with colleagues and build alliances with those you respect and can learn from. Ultimately, when working with people you need to be able to empathise, be open and honest and listen. Most importantly, be yourself.


    What’s the most common question people ask when they find out what you do?

    As a working mum, I often get asked how I juggle my responsibilities at home with a full time job that requires me to travel right across Northern Ireland.


    How do you like to relax outside work?

    I focus on my family outside work. I love to support my children in the activities they enjoy so you might find me at an Irish Dancing festival, a drama show or on the side-line of a football field!

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    First Trust Bank approves over £600m in business loans in last year with drawdowns up 120%

    All annual comparisons based on year up to the end of August 2015.



    First Trust Bank has seen a significant increase in demand for business credit over the last year having approved over £600 Million in loans to NI businesses of all sizes since August 2014. At the same time it has seen loan drawdowns up 120% year on year which points to a growing appetite among the business community for expansion.


    The Bank has also announced that its loan approval rate has been maintained at 95% in the period January to August 2015.


    Speaking about the latest business growth figures Richard Ennis, Director of Business and Corporate Banking, First Trust Bank said


    “This last year has really seen our customer’s confidence and ambition increase. We noticed the upward trend in lending starting with our corporate clients, but it is now evident across our client base with many now in a position to expand, we are responding to that need with significant funding to assist them.”

    “These latest lending figures and future pipeline show a strong desire among businesses both large and small to invest for the future and that is very encouraging as we seek to rebalance the wider economy. The demand we are seeing in recent months is noticeably more capital driven, with customers seeking future growth loans as opposed to working capital for current cash needs – something which is in stark contrast to just a few years ago. This is particularly apparent across a number of key sectors and industries including manufacturing, agri-food, hospitality and healthcare”


    As we move into a more positive phase of economic recovery First Trust Bank has taken the opportunity to reconfigure its overall service offering to better meet the needs of businesses of all sizes across Northern Ireland. This has included the launch of a number of funding programmes aimed at supporting overall growth in the economy as well as a specific support package for the agri-food sector. Most recently, the bank has bolstered its team and offering to serve the larger SME and Corporate space and will be announcing some exciting plans in this space in the coming weeks.

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    Stefanie M sets sail following multi-million pound investment

    It’s a case of ‘all hands on deck’ for the Stefanie M Fishing Company, following a recent multi-million pound investment in a new 51 metre fishing trawler, with the support of First Trust Bank.


    The high-tech vessel will improve yield quality through its innovative refrigeration and storage system, with the investment also expected to increase turnover at the firm.

    Established in 2002 by Samuel McCullough, the family owned Stefanie M Fishing Company is based in Kilkeel, Co Down, but will dock its new boat in Belfast Harbour due to its size.


    The vessel can also been seen making port at various harbours across NI and Europe, including Warrenpoint, during the fishing season.

    Known as the Stefanie M, the boat is one of only three of its kind in Northern Ireland. Employing state-of-the-art technology, the ship pumps its catch into on-board sea water tanks, ensuring stock is fresh and of the highest quality. The boat also has a more powerful engine than the firm’s previous vessel, meaning it can travel quicker and steam in and out of ports more efficiently.

    Employing 10 local people including 3 engineers, the Stefanie M is a pelagic fishing company catching mainly herring and mackerel. The majority of fish caught by the Stefanie M is sold to fish processers in Kilkeel and Ardglass, who supply the local food industry and export to a number of countries across Europe, Asia and North Africa.

    The new boat has increased catch capacity by almost 200 tonnes and is capable of holding up to 650 tonnes. It also has 8 cabins, a kitchen and living room quarters, ensuring the crew have a comfortable home away from home when they are out at sea for long periods during the six month fishing season.

    Speaking about the multi-million pound investment, Stefanie M Managing Director and Skipper, Stephen McCullough said:

    “The whole company is delighted with the investment in the new boat which is set to improve many aspects of our business including quality of produce, safety, fuel usage and efficiency, as we begin the new fishing season. We have been banking with First Trust Bank since the company was first established and enjoy very strong relationships with the team there. They understand the ins and outs of the fishing industry and have supported other fishing companies locally, so we knew they would make the investment process a smooth and simple one. We are looking forward to testing the Stefanie M out on the open water and we’re positive the vessel will help us expand our fishing operations for years to come. ”

    Welcoming news of the investment, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Kilkeel branch, First Trust Bank said;

    “As a long standing customer of the Bank, we have watched the Stefanie M Fishing Company, and the McCullough family support local people and local companies in Kilkeel over the last 40 years. They are an experienced company, and we are delighted to support their development with this significant investment as they continue to grow their business.”

    Eoin Donnelly, Business Banking, First Trust Bank said:

    “The importance of the agri food sector to our overall economy is well known and the Stefanie M Fishing Company is the latest Northern Ireland company to benefit from the Bank’s dedicated Agri-Food Fund. We have a team of 16 agri food specialists based throughout our branch network, each of whom have a close working knowledge and appreciation of the unique needs of agri and food customers. We’re delighted to support this great local fishing company as they modernise their operations.”

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